AMP Agency
Florida’s Panama City Beach, one of this year's hottest spring break destinations, has hired a professional marketing firm and shelled out $400,000 in a promotional campaign designed to draw students to its 27 miles of beaches. The promotional blitz included a glossy “Spring Break Guide,” delivered to college and university campuses across the country.
By
msnbc.com
updated 3/8/2004 4:43:47 PM ET 2004-03-08T21:43:47

It’s spring break season at Panama City Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the local daytime temperature is hovering in the very comfortable mid-70s, but Bob Warren, executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council, is a little nervous.

Over the next six weeks, Warren expects some 400,000 students to descend on this small Northwestern Florida municipality to take a break from their studies and soak up the sunshine.

But visits to the city’s spring break Web site have been a little soft of late, and the number of budget hotels available to this year’s batch of spring breakers is lower than in the past because of a growing number of higher-end beachfront redevelopments.

“We’re not overly concerned; spring break students generally make last-minute reservations,” Warren said. “Over the last five or six years this is where the crowds have been and we’ve been known as the number-one spring break destination. I think that will continue as long as we can house the students.”

Panama City Beach, with a resident population of about 8,000, is the latest destination of choice in Florida for the spring break crowd, but the town faces stiff competition from newer spring break destinations like Mexico's Cancun, Jamaica in the Caribbean, and South Padre Island at the southern tip of Texas, which are luring students to their shores with bargain travel packages.

Statistics show the spring-break dollar is worth fighting for. The roughly 16 million students now in the United States spend a total of $208 billion each year, according to data from Harris Interactive, a market-research company, and 22 percent of that spending is on discretionary items like travel.

As competition for spring break crowds grows ever more intense and the potential dollar rewards swell, hotspots like Panama City Beach are pulling out all the stops to grab the attention of the usually fickle college crowd. This year, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau has shelled out $400,000 in an aggressive marketing campaign to draw students to its 27 miles of sugary-white sand.

In its most visible promotional campaign, the bureau has teamed up with 360 Youth — a division of New York-based marketing giant Alloy — to pepper college and university campus newspapers and bookstores with a “Spring Break Guide,” featuring images of bronzed beauties and promoting Panama City Beach as “the world’s number one spring break spot.”

Advertising by local businesses helps to pay for the production of the brochure, which offers students a guide to “the best clubs, concerts, restaurants, parties, and more.”

“[Spring break] is an opportunity for county-wide economic impact,” said Bob Warren. In 2003, stores, hotels and restaurants in Panama City Beach saw $170 million in economic benefit from spring break, which typically lasts from the end of February until mid-March. “We hope we have a spring break that’s just as successful again this year, and perhaps do even better,” Warren said.

Warren also points out that it’s not just Bay County that benefits from the spring break crowds. The month-and-a-half-long event is a veritable marketing bonanza for a host of companies that use it to market their wares to a captive audience of young people, and this year a host of well-known corporations are hoping to grab a slice of the revenue pie.

Freebies, flyers and giveaways promoting everything from the latest teen movies to the newest computer games will cover hotel room keys, complimentary shuttle busses and shower curtains. And teen network MTV recently confirmed it will be on the beachfront for a week in mid-March to televise the experience.

Firms like Hasbro, Panasonic, Verizon Wireless and JC Penney are planning a plethora of activities on 65,000 square feet of beachfront property. Among this year’s attractions: Hasbro’s “Super Soaker Survival & Bump Ball Challenge,” in which students participate in a water fight tournament on the beach front, competing for a $4,000 cash prize.

Marketing directors realize that spring break is a unique opportunity to market products to the college population, according to Gary Colen, CEO of Alloy Marketing and Promotion.

“You have hundreds of thousands of young people in the same place over the period of four weeks, so you get incredible access,” Colen said. “It would be much harder to go to each school campus individually to market these products.”

Colen notes that polling of students attending last year’s spring break event at Panama City Beach show 65 percent of them planned to purchase the sponsors’ products they sampled or heard of at the event. “If you’re in the college marketing area, spring break gives you the best return for your money,” he said.

The name of the game is good, clean fun, explains Colen. “The ‘Girls Gone Wild’ idea — that’s not the image we are promoting,” he said. “The convention center really gets behind these events and engages the kids in a way that’s meaningful and safe for them.”

But spring break in Panama City Beach isn't without its controversy. Last year, local authorities arrested “Girls Gone Wild” producer Joseph Francis on charges of promoting the sexual performance of a minor. The maker of breast-baring videos is currently free on bond pending trial.

Although some may disapprove of spring break and the inevitable partying and drunkenness it can bring, Warren says that on the whole spring breakers in Panama City Beach are well behaved.

“Spring break is controversial because it’s about young people who want to have a good time,” said Warren. “There are people down here who don’t necessarily approve, but I don’t think many Florida communities would want to turn down generating $170 million in the month of March.”

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 5.03%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.68%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.87%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.42%
13.42%
Cash Back Cards 17.94%
17.94%
Rewards Cards 17.15%
17.15%
Source: Bankrate.com